Sports Cardiology

Dr. Hank Pelto CPET_proc_142.jpg

The UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology performs heart screenings that identify potentially serious cardiovascular issues in young athletes. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death in exercising young athletes, and is most commonly set off by problems—such as structural heart disorders or electrical circuitry issues—not usually found during routine physical examinations.

Many of the conditions that cause sudden cardiac death in young athletes are detectable by an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a non-invasive test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. UW Medicine sports cardiology physicians have extensive experience interpreting ECGs and identifying potential cardiac issues that can be aggravated by exercise.

Patients of the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology benefit from the strong collaboration and combined expertise of the UW Medicine sports medicine and cardiology programs. Our physicians evaluate athletes' cardiovascular health and fitness, and serve as a clinical gateway for further testing and cardiology services (if such services are deemed necessary).

UW Medicine offers these sports cardiology services to young athletes (ages 12-30) at our new state-of-the-art Sports Medicine Center at Husky Stadium​. Patients who require additional testing or cardiology consultation receive care at the UW Medicine Regional Heart Center and Seattle Children's Hospital. 

Our team

Our team of physicians specializes in the accurate diagnosis of unique cardiovascular issues affecting young athletes. The same sports medicine physicians who serve as team physicians for the University of Washington Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks perform and interpret heart screenings within the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology. In partnership with the Nick of Time Foundation, our team has screened more than 14,000 students, as well as college and professional athletes. Experienced in the care of elite and student athletes alike, our physicians understand the unique physiology of athletes and can discern the difference between normal changes that occur in an athlete's heart and disorders that can lead to SCA. 

Sports cardiology services​

​UW Medicine offers the following sports cardiology services to young athletes (ages 12-30) at our Sports Medicine Center located at Husky Stadium:

  • Heart screen with ECG/EKG
  • Sports physical (pre-participation evaluation) with ECG/EKG
  • Evaluation of cardiovascular symptoms
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) /VO2 max study (maximum oxygen uptake)

Heart screen. A heart screen includes a heart health survey, detailed family medical history, physical exam and a resting ECG/EKG. Patients with abnormal heart screens will require additional testing and/or cardiology consultation.

​​​Sports physical or pre-participation physical evaluation with ECG/EKG. A sports physical, also known as a pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE), includes a review of all conditions that may affect athlete safety such as prior concussion, asthma, and musculoskeletal and orthopedic injuries in addition to the services provided with a heart screen.

Evaluation of cardiovascular symptoms​. An evaluation of cardiovascular symptoms is performed by experienced sports medicine providers who care for athletes of all ages and competition levels. This service is offered to any young athlete with potential heart-related symptoms or a concerning family history. Additional testing or cardiology consultation is facilitated as needed.

Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET)/VO2 max study (maximum oxygen uptake). UW Medicine offers cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET), commonly known as exercise stress testing. CPET helps sports medicine specialists optimize an athlete's performance or evaluate symptoms affecting athletic performance.

Performance testing
Performance testing uses a state-of-the-art gas exchange system to measure athletes' cardiorespiratory capacity (also known as VO2) as they work out on a treadmill or cycle ergometer. The test is designed to "stress" your heart and lungs through exercise. Test results are evaluated by a sports medicine physician, who makes recommendations for optimal training customized to the individual's unique physiology.

Symptom evaluation
CPET is also useful in evaluating symptoms that affect athletic performance. We will perform an evaluation to determine the most appropriate tests for you. Our symptom evaluation services also include exertional pulmonary function testing for athletes with exercise-related cardiorespiratory symptoms.

​Cardiovascular symptoms

The vast majority of young athletes identified with potentially serious cardiac disorders have no warning signs or symptoms. However, the following signs and symptoms may signal a cardiovascular problem:​

  • Passing out during exercise
  • Chest pain with exercise
  • New onset fatigue or excessive shortness of breath with exercise
  • Palpitations (heart racing for no reason)
  • Unexplained seizures
  • A family member with early onset heart disease or sudden death from a heart condition before the age of 40
A heart screen detects many of the heart conditions that place athletes at risk of a cardiovascular event during exercise, but it does not screen for all causes. Thus it is important to bring to the attention of your physician any new symptoms, or the development of a heart problem within a family member. A heart screen is recommended every 1-2 years for youth active in sports, as ​​hearts change as they mature.

Research and outreach

The UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology has a robust research program that is nationally and internationally recognized for its contributions to the prevention of sudden cardiac death and the promotion of cardiovascular safety in athletes. Specific areas of focus include:
  • Frequency and causes of SCA in young athletes
  • Cardiovascular screening in athletes
  • The role of early detection in improving outcomes
  • Improving ECG interpretation in athletes
  • The development of educational resources for health providers around the world
  • Emergency planning and use of defibrillators in school and athletic settings
The UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology aims to transform the delivery of cardiovascular care in athletes to promote safe athletic participation and reduce the incidence of SCA in young athletes. Through advanced heart screening, scientific research, community outreach and education, our team works to prevent sudden cardiac death in youth who participate in athletics.